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Mike Tannenbaum’s take: Early days of training camp, through the eyes of a former NFL GM

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Mike Tannenbaum was general manager of the Jets from 2006-2012, a franchise that went to consecutive AFC championship games, and is currently working as an agent for coaches and executives. He will regularly contribute to Yahoo! Sports with views about business of the NFL and how to field winning football teams.

Being a general manager of a NFL team is an incredible experience: This time of year there’s nothing like the feeling of walking on the practice field at training camp with all the people that you spent countless hours bunkered down with, building the team for the season. You’ve spent the past few months with one goal: winning a championship. Walking onto the practice field for the for the first time creates a buzz and excitement for all of the countless people who sacrificed so much in the offseason. Now it’s time to watch the process come to life on the field.

The reason most NFL GMs are on Ambien: Preseason season-ending injuries. There have already been too many for our sport. Dan Koppen, Dennis Pitta and Jeremy Maclin, to name a few, are already done for the year.

Sometimes it can be someone who had a terrific offseason, like Ropati Pitoitua for us at the Jets in 2010. He was someone we thought could be a significant contributor on the defensive line. Pitoitua was an undrafted free agent from Washington and spent the 2009 season on our practice squad. He had all the characteristics you could look for in a developmental defensive lineman: length, motor, good knee bend and a great work ethic. It is a terrible feeling for both the team to lose a young ascending player, and for the player who worked his tail off. Now he will have to wait another year to try to make a roster.

As fans of the teams who lost players, be patient. Your front office has another month to evaluate its own roster, as well as work trade possibilities and waiver claims. So while options may initially appear limited, circumstances could be different around Labor Day.

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Mike Tannenbaum with Jets coach Rex Ryan (USA Today Sports Images)

Lessons Learned: As a GM, you can never plan enough for the unexpected injuries, but nothing is worse than when you have multiple injuries at the same position.

Last year with the Jets, losing Santonio Holmes (foot), Jeremy Kerley (hamstring), Dustin Keller (hamstring) and Stephen Hill (knee) in the passing game was too much for us to overcome. That’s why it’s critical to have as much depth as reasonably possible at the skill positions. You can never have enough players who can score.

Philadelphia, while obviously disappointed over Maclin’s injury, still has a number ways to score quickly. The Eagles still have Desean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, and I think Zach Ertz can make an immediate contribution at tight end position to pair with Clay Harbor and Brent Celek.

This past week I realized: That there is no better feeling than the opening of NFL training camps. It’s truly a special time of year, when every team has hope and a belief that this could be a special year. That very notion allows pro football to distinguish itself from the other sports. Because of parity, each team is truly put on a level playing field with its competitors. I’ve been watching all the developments and collecting information around the clock, between traditional and social media as the news cycle truly never stops.

During the week, keep an eye on: As the first full week unfolds, take note of the young 3-4 outside linebackers who are transitioning from playing defensive line in college. They often struggle “in space." This will show up in both one-on-one pass coverage drills as well as team drills. It takes time for the transition to happen. Bryan Thomas of the Jets was a great example of a player who was drafted to play in a 4-3 (and Bryan played for a number of years in the NFL before he was asked to play standing up) but made the transition. Because Bryan was such a good athlete he could play on his feet, but his transition didn’t happen overnight.

When you compound the fact that a young player is transitioning to the NFL and is also transitioning to playing standing up, it is a work in progress. One player that comes to mind is Jarvis Jones of Pittsburgh. While Jones lined up everywhere when he played at Georgia, I’m sure he will be rushing quite a bit in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s system. When he has to drop in coverage, be patient in your evaluation of him. It might just take a while.

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